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I'm editing a book with this sentence:

'Viroj, his wife, Pranom, Joan and I were duly ushered into an audience room at Chitralada Palace.'

Viroj's wife is Pranom so Pranom is set off with commas as a non-restrictive appositive (Viroj has only one wife). Thus there are four people going to the palace. However, if you do not know that Viroj's wife is Pranom, then you could read the sentence as there being five people going to the palace.

Should I separate the names with semi-colons as so:

'Viroj; his wife, Pranom; Joan; and I were duly ushered into an audience room at Chitralada Palace.'

It looks a little odd to me but I believe it is correct?

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  • Viroj and Pranom, his wife, and Joan and I..that takes care of it. It's best to avoid multiple semi-colons in a literary text......
    – Lambie
    Apr 18 at 16:59
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    This is one case where the 'set off any non-restrictive appositive with commas' rule can and should be abandoned. 'Viroj, his wife Pranom, Joan and I were duly ushered into an audience room at Chitralada Palace.' // If 'wife' were 'daughter' and a non-restrictive appositive needed to be indicated, I'd go to super-commas: 'Viroj; his daughter, Pranom; Joan and I were duly ushered into an audience room at Chitralada. ' That 'Oxford super-comma' would look terrible. Apr 18 at 18:25
  • Parentheses (round brackets) are sometimes frowned upon in formal writing (depending on genre), but if you're ok with them they would provide a solution "Viroj, Pranom (his wife), Joan, and I were duly ushered..."
    – Stuart F
    Apr 19 at 9:30
  • @Lambie, I don't think 'Viroj and Pranom, his wife, and Joan and I' is clear as to whether there are four or five people; it could be read either way. Apr 20 at 10:47
  • Let me put it to you straight: no literary writer with punctuate as you have with those colons. Pranom, his wife, is set off by commas. Setting off by commas applies to the last term.
    – Lambie
    Apr 20 at 13:41
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Edwin's suggestion is good, but it needs the serial comma to be clearly parsed as four: "Viroj, his wife Pranom, Joan, and I ..."

The "spousal appositive" commas can be safely dropped (regardless of any additional wives). Garner offers flexibility:

“This is not a hard-and-fast rule, and many publications ignore commas with a name as a short appositive of relationship, for two reasons. The first is stylistic: the written comma <my husband, Bob> does not reflect any audible pause in the spoken sentence <“my husband Bob”>. The second is practical: enforcing the rule would require finding out how many brothers the subject has before deciding between his brother Blair or his brother, Blair, and that can be a lot of effort for a small payoff.”

Excerpt From: Garner, Bryan. “Garner's Modern English Usage.” Oxford University Press, 2017-09-09. Apple Books.

In this specific case, the reason would be clarity of meaning, which supersedes all else.

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CMS says to use semi-colons in complex lists with other punctuation so I think it's technically correct if not ideal. I believed I needed to set off 'his wife' from Pranom as it is merely adding extra information and is non-essential to the understanding of the sentence.

I have now discovered that non-restrictive appositives can also be set off with dashes or parentheses so @Jason Bassford's advice is good. I take his point about the ordering of her name and her description but this book is a product of its time and wives are very much accessories in it!

@Marcellothearcane and @BillJ are also correct according to CMS: https://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/qanda/data/faq/topics/Commas/faq0031.html https://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/qanda/data/faq/topics/Commas/faq0034.html

Although: https://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/qanda/data/faq/topics/Commas/faq0085.html

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  • It is terrrrible. You should use this: Viroj and Pranom, his wife, and Joan and I were duly etc.
    – Lambie
    Apr 18 at 17:01
  • Or use Edwin's suggestion, that one is good too.
    – Lambie
    Apr 20 at 13:42

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